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Sexual harassment protection denied to unpaid interns

Missouri students and interns may be interested to know that according to a new ruling by the New York state federal district court, unpaid interns in that state do not receive legal protection for sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the ruling, since the claimant in the case was not being paid for her work, she was not an employee, and, according to the court, no employee protections against sexual misconduct applied.

The ruling that the New York City Human Rights Law does not extend to unpaid interns has become part of a 20-year pattern of similar cases. Even as early as 1994, cases have been brought against employers for sexual Harassment directed at interns, and in each case, the courts ruled that since those interns worked for free, they did not qualify for employee protections.

At this point, only one state has broadened its protections, which many employees take for granted, to include unpaid interns. In June, Oregon passed a law that confers harassment protection equally on all interns regardless of whether or not they received financial compensation for their service.

The rights of interns have been a source of growing concern for decades. Widespread use of internships, both paid and unpaid, has exposed many inconsistencies in protection and rights when compared to a traditional paid-employee situation. Individuals who feel that they have been taken advantage of in the workplace, whether sexually or in any other sense, may be able to pursue claims against their employer. An employment law attorney may be able to help them build a case that demonstrates such mistreatment in order to secure a fair settlement.

Source: CNN, "Unpaid interns not protected from sexual harassment", Emily Jane Fox, October 09, 2013

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